Of the laundry list of independent U.S. Government agencies Trump’s initial “skinny budget” submission to Congress proposes to eliminate, the USIP and the Wilson Center are specifically active on issues relating to democracy, war and peace in East Africa and the African Development Foundation is the one Africa-specific agency.
fifth sixth eighth anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi was this past Thursday Sunday. From the New York Times report the next day:
“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)
The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.
Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.
“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.
Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”
. . . .
Unfortunately, in these five years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police. Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity. The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)
Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:
Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.
In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.
Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.
Back in March 2010–well before the last widespread famine in 2011–I wrote a piece here called “The Nairobi Curse” suggesting an analogy between the role of Nairobi in Kenya’s overall political and economic development and “the resource curse” faced by those countries prized by outsiders for oil, for example.
With famine being reprised I was reminded of the “Nairobi Curse” when I noticed on the “KenyaBuzz” Nairobi entertainment and happenings newsletter a charming little story, “Nairobi’s Newest Wine Shop Delivers In A Different Kind Of Way”, promoting “Wine and Bubbles”, a French couples’ couple of Nairobi stores selling French wine. The expat Nairobian explained that he had hoped to grow vineyards in Kenya but learned on moving from France that the climate was not conducive so he was selling French wine instead.
The growth market of course is introducing wine tastes to what is invariably called the “Kenyan Middle Class”–basically the third tier wealthy Kenyan of the Nairobi professional/managerial class. The sort of people who would be upper middle class in a much more broadly and deeply prosperous country where most people had enough to eat with a per capita income several times that of Kenya’s.
Here is my original post:
This is Kenya’s version of “the oil curse” or “the resource curse”.
Nairobi is the place to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (and outside of South Africa) for international meetings and conferences. It is a relatively comfortable place to live for middle class or wealthy Westerners, or young aid workers. An international city with a certain level of cosmopolitanism, yet of manageable size and scope relative to so many burgeoning cities of the less developed “South”. A headquarters for two UN agencies. A diplomatic critical mass, with lots of representation from all sorts of countries around the world that have little obvious presence in Africa, but also a crossroads for representation of everyone playing for a major piece of the pie (Iran, Libya, China, India, the Gulf States–as well as obviously the US and Europe). And you can go on business, and then take a safari on the side.
From the US, soldiers go to Djibouti (the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemonier) while diplomats go to Nairobi. The US runs its Somali diplomacy from the Embassy to Kenya rather than Djibouti which would be the more obvious place on paper. Likewise, Somali politicians tend to live much of the time in Nairobi. Nairobi is the place to invest cash generated in Somalia.
Nairobi is the “back office”, and in some cases the only office, for much of relatively huge amount of US aid-related effort for Southern Sudan, as well as that from other countries.
Nairobi has something like 8% of the Kenyan population, and perhaps 60% of the GDP (don’t let anyone tell you they know any of these figures too precisely). Perhaps 50-60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements (“slums”) whereas the other half lives as “the other half”. Most national level Kenyan politicians holding office live primarily in Nairobi (although they may have homes in a constituency they represent in Parliament as well).
When I was the East Africa Director, based in Nairobi, for IRI (where our much bigger Sudan program was also headquartered) as an American I felt that my government at that time (2007-2008) was falling into the trap of recreating a Cold War paradigm for our international relations by looking around through our “War on Terrorism” telescope. And that in Kenya there were a lot of international interests that valued stability over reforms for reasons that related more to the current role of Nairobi than the long term interests of Kenyan development.
Certainly Nairobi is a resource that has great value–as does oil, for instance–it’s just a question of whether Kenyans can find a way to use it to the broad advantage of the nation or whether it will continue to be exploited to disproportionately benefit the most powerful. Including being used to help keep them in power when more Kenyans want democratic change.
Just this past week Kenya hosted an IGAD meeting on Sudan–and flouted its obligations as a party to the Rome Treaty on the ICC by inviting President Bashir of Sudan while under indictment. Meanwhile the ICC is considering whether to allow formal investigation of key Kenyan leaders for the post-election violence from 2007-08. But Nairobi is such a great place to have these conferences . . . and Sudan is so important (Khartoum is no Nairobi, but it has oil).
The The East African reports that “Kenya saw drought coming, but did little to avert food crisis“. None of us have any reason to be surprised–most especially when there is a re-election to run. This is what I wrote as the last famine developed in 2011:
Another drought, more famine. One of the early and formative conversations I had shortly after arriving to work in Kenya was with a judge who encouraged me to take note of the living conditions of…
This is a quote from an email bulletin I received today from the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. She is an impressive woman I knew back in the local Republican Party in Nashville during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations when I was in law school:
Earlier this month, I announced the formation of an Opioid Abuse Task Force to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction in Tennessee. In 2015, more than 1,400 Tennesseans died from opioid abuse and there are currently more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are people. We cannot let this problem get any worse, and that’s why I am proud of my colleagues for working swiftly to come up with solutions to this problem.
Back then in the late 1980s the state government was run by Democrats with Republicans gaining ground in federal offices and presidential campaigns, as in most of the South. East Tennessee, where my mother grew up on a family dairy farm on the outskirts of a small town, had a Republican tradition as upland area that had been pro-Union or at least non-successionist in the Civil War, whereas the Confederate areas stayed fairly Democratic. For this reason Tennessee had an unusually competitive two party system with genuine efforts to sway overlapping groups of potential voters.
In more recent years, although I have not had the opportunity to be around much the GOP seems to have gradually consolidated control and the Democrats have receded into the cities. The GOP has simultaneously moved steadily to the right from being a center-right/right coalition back 25ish years ago and power has devolved from the party organizations to voters in open primaries (as in most Southern states voter registration in Tennesssee is not by party). As politics has moved right, the culture has moved “left” as in the rest of the country and much of what we “conservatives” thought we wanted to conserve is not so much in evidence anymore, as reflected in part in the dislocations associated with things like the opiod epidemic.
The opiod epidemic is a pretty fascinating story of policy, political and cultural failure–needless to say it’s embarrassing as hell to talk about and that much harder to solve.
Fortunately Donald Trump, leader of his new Republican Party spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Greater Washington today and promised a huge military build up to go along with the pre-existing program of paying pharmaceutical companies for the opioids. So not to worry–next week back to our regularly scheduled programming about elections for Africans.
With Kenya’s constitutionally set election only just more than six months away, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports “Kenya’s voter registration rocked by fraud claims“. Even the Daily Nation has published an editorial noting serious questions about the integrity of the current voter registration process.
Gabrielle Lynch notes in her column in The East African, “Unrealistic timelines to blame for Kenya’s election shortcomings,” that the time to implement the gender balance rules of the Constitution under the previous Supreme Court opinion has been blown, and other deadlines are upon us. Dr. Lynch goes through the various pre-election deadlines which were set in legislation and are now in some flux. She raises the prospect of jetisoning some of the technology because what she refers to as compressed timelines.
To me, the issue is a lack of political will, which is independent of the time involved. Legislation to implement the mandatory requirements of the Constitution on gender balance was not passed because the legislators in power, along with the President, didn’t feel like it. They like the old way better than what is required by the “new” (seven year old) Constitution. There has been plenty of time since 2013 to pass gender balance legislation, just as there was plenty of time to replace the fraudulently procured technology systems purchased with the assistance of the United States and other donors for the 2013 election.
Likewise there was plenty of time to legally address the procurement fraud issues as directed by Supreme Court’s decision of April 2013 on the election petitions.
This time the incumbent administration has attacked the donors who are providing an additional $85 million to defray the cost of the election in spite of all the obvious questions. The donor group through its diplomats has pledged transparency this time, but very little specific information has been published on the details of the programming so far.
Unfortunately my October 2015 Freedom of Information Act request to USAID for contract documents from our support for the IEBC in 2013 has still resulted in zeroreleased documents (even though materials were sent from the Mission in Kenya to Washington more than a year ago.)
[Update: Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State today, with the votes of those Republicans who had raised questions about his commitmant to human rights and other issues related to his career long tenure at oil major Exxon. He takes over a State Department where perhaps 1,000 officers and employees have signed a leaked “dissent” from President Trump’s immigration and refugee order impacting those of Somali, Sudanese and Libyan nationality, among seven countries. Tillerson has said he was not consulted on the Executive Order.]
Former Obama administration Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson finds “Trump’s Africa policy unclear and uncertain” but expects a broad pulling back from existing bipartisan programs in a piece at African Arguments:
. . . .
Trump has exhibited no interest in Africa. Nor have any of his closest White House advisors. Except for some campaign comments about Libya and Benghazi, the new president has made very few remarks about the continent. And despite his global network of hotel, golf and tourist holdings, he appears to have no investments or business relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.
The one member of Trump’s inner circle that may have an interest in Africa is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. He has some experience of Africa because of his many years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, most of whose successful dealings on the continent were with largely corrupt and authoritarian leaders.
If Tillerson appoints a moderate and experienced Africa expert to run the Africa Bureau – and there are a dozen Republicans who meet that definition – and if he is able to keep policy in the control of the State Department, African issues may not be pushed aside completely. But irrespective of who manages Trump’s Africa policy, there will be a major change from recent previous administrations.
President Obama pushed a strong democratic agenda and launched half a dozen new development programmes including Power Africa, Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Before him, Bush’s “compassionate” approach led to the establishment of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), two of America’s most widely-praised programmes on the continent.
But Trump’s view is more myopic . . .
Under Trump, any focus on Africa will likely be on military and security issues, not democracy, good governance or human rights. These policies are likely to find greater favour with Africa’s autocrats than civil society or local business leaders.
. . . . Photo from church of African-American freedmen from Cumberland Island, Georgia for Black History Month
By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial. Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly. What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that. From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides. With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington. And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.
The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).
I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08. It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.
I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics. In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.
So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?
It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.
Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”? [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]
One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda. Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.
I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status quo ante and any realistic alternatives). Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work. But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience. Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.
Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.
I ordered this book through the University of Chicago at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington last month– newly published in the U.K. and released in 2015 in South Africa:
For fifty years the South African government spent an estimated $100 million annually on a campaign of disinformation, much of it in the US and UK.
New York Times journalist Ron Nixon provides a lively and shocking account of how power and influence were used to buy media coverage and create extensive support networks. These included an unlikely coalition of anti-communist black conservatives, religious organizations and global corporations.
With all the current buzz about Russian involvement in U.S. and European elections and political controversies, and since I knew some of the people who played a role in this story through my work in the Republican Party during the later years of Apartheid, I was naturally glad to see this and anxious to read through and see what new I learn about this fairly recent era in US and African politics and relations.
See my post Abramoff’s Africa and Obama’s America from 2012.
Update: I’ve finished it and highly recommend. Here is a review from The Daily Maverick. Of personal interest, some events took place in familiar locales in Mississippi, and Jack Abramoff gave an interview with the author in 2014 in which he claims, amazingly, that he didn’t know that the International Freedom Foundation which he helped found with South Africans in 1986 was a front for South African intelligence. (Jack was in relevant news this week sharply criticizing Senator Marco Rubio for his questioning of Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings.)